MARKET REPORT: Builders tumble over watchdog threat

Shares in four of Britain’s biggest housebuilders were knocked after regulators threatened them with court action. 

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating Barratt Developments, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Countryside Properties over the sale of rip-off leasehold homes. 

The watchdog believes it has found ‘troubling evidence’ the developers did not properly explain what ground rent is to new home buyers and that it would keep rising over time. 

This left people with hefty bills and made it more difficult for them to sell their properties on. 

Other allegations suggested they used unfair tactics to sell houses. 

The leasehold scandal in and of itself is nothing new – it has been burning away in the background for years now. But many were surprised by the strong tone taken by the watchdog. 

Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s boss, issued an industry-wide threat about malpractice, saying: ‘Everyone involved in selling leasehold homes should take note: if our investigation demonstrates that there has been mis-selling or unfair contract terms, these will not be tolerated.’ 

For the time being, the CMA has written to housebuilders outlining the problems and requesting more information. It’s unclear what is coming – but the firms could face court action. The inquiry rattled shareholders, and Barratt Developments was the biggest faller on the FTSE100, dropping by a bruising 7 per cent, or 37.6p, to 501.8p. 

Persimmon was not far off, falling 5.2 per cent, or 138p, to 2503p, while Taylor Wimpey dropped 5 per cent or 6p to 114.9p. FTSE250-listed Countryside also took one on the nose, losing lower 4.5 per cent, or 14.6p, at 311p. Even London-focused housebuilder Berkeley Group, which was not named in the CMA’s crackdown, was out of favour with investors following its latest update to shareholders. 

It still expects to make the same profits – of around £500m – and is sticking to plans to hand back £280m to investors. 

The stamp duty cut has helped prop up ‘robust’ sales and said it was doing particularly well because it is based in areas where demand for houses far outstrips supply. But the upbeat tone wasn’t enough to outweigh the inevitable caution surrounding Covid and potential disruptions, and shares in Berkeley edged down 3.7 per cent lower, 173p, to 4475p. 

The huge sell-off on Wall Street was contagious for the second day in a row, with the FTSE100 falling 0.9 per cent, or 51.78 points, to 5799.08, while the FTSE250 edged 0.6 per cent lower, or 105.41 points, to 17354.28. 

Hopes that the global economy is in recovery mode boosted shares in mining companies, which benefit when the economy expands because countries are generally using more resources. 

For metals, in particular, this can come from government-funded construction and infrastructure projects. Anglo American was the top Footsie riser, climbing 3.6 per cent, or 63.8p, to 1832.6p, while Glencore rose 2.8 per cent, or 4.7p, to 171.44p and copper miner Antofagasta jumped 2.8 per cent, or 29p, to 1083.5p. 

Vehicle hire group Redde Northgate (up 7.9 per cent, or 15p, to 206p) scooped up some of the assets of Nationwide Accident Repair Services for £11m – although this could rise in future depending on performance. Darlington-based Redde Northgate has taken on 77 out of Nationwide’s 102 bodyshops, saving 2,300 jobs at the sites that will stay open. 

Over on AIM, Novacyt investors were nonplussed that the fastmoving biotechnology firm has released its CE-mark approved two-gene Covid test – which checks for the most widespread strain of the virus as well as a mutated form. Shares finished flat at 300p.

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